Monsanto's claim that GM crops will end Third World hunger is spurious, says Joan Ruddock

comment

WHEN Monsanto decided to fight growing resistance to its genetically modified foods, it adopted the advertising slogan "Food - Health - Hope". Its message to stroppy European consumers was that our selfish concerns were holding back the means of ending world hunger. It is a seductive message. Those of us who campaign for more wholesome, safer food for ourselves are hardly likely to condemn others to continuing starvation. So could it be that what we consider bad for "us" is good for "them"?

The purported benefits of genetically modified crops include higher yields, resistance to pesticides and pests and delayed spoilage times - a combination of factors that would surely meet the needs of the hungry. This presupposes that shortage of food is the problem. It is not. More than enough food is already produced.

People starve because they are too poor to buy food, because they are denied access to land to grow it, or because they are displaced by civil unrest and war. Genetically modified crops are irrelevant where the structural issues of hunger are inequitable access to and distribution of food. Indeed, there is no evidence that current genetic engineering of crops is directed at solving Third World hunger. The two main crops being grown commercially in the US are soy beans and maize. The bulk of both crops is used as animal feed - providing meat for the well fed while, worldwide, two out of three people have a primarily vegetarian diet. Claims of altruism may be misplaced, but this doesn't mean that food producers and distributors of GMO (genetically modified organisms) are disinterested in the developing world.

Far from it. There are huge financial interests at stake, not least in supplying Western consumer markets. This linkage has profound implications for developing countries, their farmers and environment. Without any significant direct benefit to the host population, the growing of GM crops in developing countries will present social and economic burdens in addition to the environmental threat.

Genetically modified seeds with "technology protection systems" - the terminator genes - are a prime example. Designed to produce but not reproduce, these seeds are a direct challenge to traditional agriculture where the farmers harvest and store their seed for replanting. Not only would farmers lose the freedom of independent crop breeding and seed exchange; they would have to purchase expensive seeds from the biotech companies. Such controls would further marginalise poorer farmers, leading to increased homogenisation of crops and consolidation of land.

Superficially the herbicide-resistant crop looks a better prospect for the developing world. Paradoxically it reinforces farmers' dependence on chemicals and undermines efforts to use more sustainable forms of agriculture. The same risks - of uncontrollable releases of GMOs, of creating super weeds or "natural" crop failures - are faced by developing countries.

These issues will be on the international agenda in Colombia this week, when 170 nations negotiate the final stages of the international Biosafety Protocol intended to regulate movement between countries of GMOs and their products. Public opinion is forcing European governments to act on GMOs at home, but even more critical is the stance we take internationally.

An effective protocol must give states the right to apply the precautionary principal when deciding whether or not to allow the import, introduction, transfer, handling or use of GMOs or their products within their territory. Similarly all states should be able to take full account of socio-economic impact within their territory when taking decisions on GMOs and their products.

These rights might seem obvious but they are directly opposed by the biotech industries and without them countries attempting to ban GMOs fall foul of free trade laws.

Also at issue in Colombia is the question of liability. No international legal framework exists to deal with these new technologies, and developing countries in particular are calling for a fair liability and compensation system.

Fears about the effect of GMOs on human health are reaching fever pitch The re-evaluation of Arpad Pusztai's work on feeding GM potatoes to rats, will give even greater impetus to the campaign to freeze commercial production of GM crops for both human and animal consumption. It would be appalling if we who have the best science, regulatory regimes and resources were to take steps to protect ourselves but fail to hear the concerns of developing countries.

The writer is a botanist and Labour MP for Lewisham, Deptford.

Baroness Young, page 30

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Receptionist

£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss